Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit

Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: President’s Trump’s ban on most transgender service members “inflicts concrete harms” on U.S. military readiness by discouraging thousands from enlisting and damaging troop morale, three former military surgeons general said in a new study.

The 2019 policy compromised “recruitment, reputation, retention, unit cohesion, morale, medical care, and good order and discipline,” according to the report co-authored by the former military physicians and produced in conjunction with the Palm Center, a research institute and LGBTQ advocacy group.

The policy switch: The Obama administration allowed transgender people to begin serving openly in 2016, but, in 2017, Trump tweeted he would reverse that policy.

The Trump administration ban, which bars anyone with gender dysphoria from enlisting, took effect in April 2019. Trump has argued that the new policy would improve readiness, saying transgender troops could erode unit cohesion if allowed to enlist.

What the study found: But the study found that “contrary to claims by the president and the Pentagon that allowing transgender service would be disruptive and costly, the ban itself has harmed readiness.”

The report’s findings were compiled from public statements made by senior officials, in-depth interviews with transgender service members, survey data and interviews with service academies’ faculty.

The Palm Center estimates that nearly 15,000 transgender service members serve in the military, based on Pentagon data.

Detriments to the ban: The Defense Department’s current policy came after Trump tweeted in July 2017 he would “not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

The study has found that since then, the ban “has harmed unit cohesion by encouraging anti-transgender harassment and by undermining trust when troops conceal their identities.”

“The ban appears to have emboldened anti-transgender harassment by commanders or peers, which can come in the form of selective and unequal enforcement of personnel policies; ... disparaging comments; and implied threats that the ban’s overriding message that transgender people don’t belong in uniform could be used to drive such service members out,” the report states.

The study also found that the ban hurts recruitment efforts by artificially shrinking a recruiting pool of an estimated 205,850 transgender Americans.

An easy switch? But the Palm Center has said that because of the Obama administration’s policy framework — kept in place in order to grandfather-in transgender service members who came out before the Trump administration’s policy took effect — President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE could reverse the ban within 30 days.

Biden has previously pledged to revert to the Obama-era policy that allowed transgender service members to serve openly.

“On day one of my presidency, I will begin reinstating LGBTQ protections President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE has rolled back, including ensuring transgender individuals can openly serve in the military,” he said in February.

CHINA VOWS RESPONSE TO US ADMIRAL’S TAIWAN VISIT: China on Monday pledged a "legitimate and necessary response" to a reported visit of a U.S. Navy admiral to Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China “firmly” opposes any form of official exchanges and military contact between Washington and Taipei.

Beijing made the statement after reports that Navy Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, the U.S. Pacific Command’s top intelligence official, made an unannounced visit to the island.

The United States has not officially confirmed the trip.

Upping the engagement: The Trump administration has increasingly engaged with Taiwan, in the past month approving three major arms sales to Taipei worth billions.

And in August, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to the island, becoming the most senior U.S. official to visit in decades. That visit was followed by one from Undersecretary of State Keith Krach in September.

At odds: Taiwan has ruled itself for decades, though China considers it part of its territory and reacted angrily after the visits from the U.S. officials, increasing military flights in Taiwanese airspace as a show of force.

China also declared sanctions on U.S. defense contractors in response to the recent arms sales.

The U.S. government, however, continues to keep unofficial ties with the autonomous island, and is also Taiwan’s main source for weapons. 

Trading comments: China will “make a legitimate and necessary reactions” as the situation develops, Zhao said of the most recent visit, though he did not elaborate.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, meanwhile, repeated the U.S. commitment to Taiwan in a speech in the Philippines capital Manila.

“I can’t imagine anything that will cause a greater backlash against China from the entire world if they attempted to use military force to coerce Taiwan,” O'Brien said Monday. “The U.S. is with her friends in Taipei. We will continue to be there.”

FROM THE WEEKEND — TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PULLS OUT OF OPEN SKIES TREATY WITH RUSSIA: The Trump administration has officially withdrawn from the Open Skies treaty, six months after starting the process to leave.

"On May 22, 2020, the United States exercised its right pursuant to paragraph 2 of Article XV of the Treaty on Open Skies by providing notice to the Treaty Depositaries and to all States Parties of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty, effective six months from the notification date," State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown said in a statement.

"Six months having elapsed, the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies," Brown added.

About the agreement: The post-Cold War agreement was struck to allow nations to conduct flyovers of other allies in an attempt to collect military data and other intelligence on neighboring foreign enemies. 

Trump first announced in May he would withdraw from the treaty, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoRepublican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services WashPost fact-checker gives Pompeo four 'Pinocchios' for 'zombie' claim about Obama Iran deal Poll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability MORE formally submitting a notice of intent to withdraw from the pact a day later.

Lawmakers push back: In a statement issued on Sunday, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) called the administration's withdrawal "reckless" and encouraged President-elect Joe Biden's administration to rejoin the pact once he is inaugurated.

"I strongly believe that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty is a violation of domestic law," the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said. "In the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress reaffirmed its support for the Open Skies Treaty and specifically mandated the administration justify a withdrawal four months before any formal notification of withdrawal took place. President Trump brazenly ignored the law and is unilaterally imposing a politically-charged withdrawal, even after losing a presidential election.”

Read more here.


The Association of the U.S. Army will hold a webinar with Gen. Thierry Burkhard, the French Army chief of staff; and Maj. Gen. Michel Delion, director of the French Army’s Center for Doctrine and Command Teaching at 10 a.m.

Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, director, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, will brief reporters on the Pentagon’s efforts to adopt and scale AI capabilities at 1 p.m. at the Pentagon. 

Former national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will speak at the Atlantic Council at 1:15 p.m. 


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